Virgin of Guadalupe Now on View

July 31, 2009

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Last month we told you we had acquired Manuel Arellano’s 1691 painting Virgin of Guadalupe. Now we can report that it’s on view in our Latin American galleries. You may have seen Christopher Knight’s post at Culture Monster earlier this week, which also included a video of the original Virgin of Guadalupe, hanging in the Guadalupe Basilica in Mexico City.

You can see the Virgin of Guadalupe as soon as you enter the top floor of the Art of the Americas Building. It practically calls out to you, asking you to pass through three other galleries on your way to view it up close. But don’t pass too quickly! On your way you’ll pass Diego Rivera’s masterpiece Flower Day and our other recent acquisition, Roberto Matta’s Burn, Baby, Burn.

Speaking personally, probably one of the most valuable things I’ve gotten from working at LACMA in the last few years has been an appreciation for Latin American art—all eras and all varieties. It started, for me, with the mesmerizing Arts in Latin America, 1492–1820, a special exhibition from 2007. It was one of those rare exhibitions that knocked me off my feet precisely because I walked in with no expectations—I didn’t think it would be “my thing.” I was wrong. Then we reinstalled the ancient American galleries with the help of a gallery design by Jorge Pardo. The installation was controversial —does the design distract from the objects? Mine is just one opinion, but if you ask me, no. Pardo’s gallery design made me look at the objects with fresh eyes, made me consider the stylistic choices these ancient artists were making compared to those working at the same time in, say, Europe or the Middle East. Sure, you could make that comparison without Pardo’s help—the differences were always there—but I hadn’t taken the time before. Again, it wasn’t “my thing” until I saw it in this new light.

At the same time, we reinstalled our permanent collection of Latin American art from the Spanish colonial era to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Walking through these galleries again yesterday, on the way to see the Virgin of Guadalupe, I was reminded again how much this collection impresses me. The Matta, the paintings by Rivera and Tamayo, the religious-themed paintings sharing the gallery with Arellano’s Virgin. And then there’s the contemporary gallery, which features probably three or four of my favorite twentieth and twenty-first–century works in the whole museum, including works by Francis Alÿs, Cildo Meireles, Mathias Goeritz, and Jesús Rafael Soto (visitors to the museum making a point to hit up BCAM and the Ahmanson Building’s modern galleries would do well not to forget about this gallery).

The new acquisition of the Arellano’s Virgin of Guadalupe is reason enough to come up to these galleries—just be sure you take in everything else while you’re here.

Scott Tennent


Summer Kids’ Tour

July 30, 2009

Last week, my two-and-a-half-year-old son met me at LACMA for lunch, and together we devised a quick summer kid’s tour. We’re out and about a lot, but this was certainly one of the most fun afternoons the two of us have had together in a long time.

Walking through Choi Jeong-Hwa's HappyHappy

Walking through Choi Jeong-Hwa's HappyHappy

Choi Jeong-Hwa’s HappyHappy. Our first stop. (This is the HappyHappy that is installed in the main entrance,  not the HappyHappy installed closer to 6th Street, mentioned yesterday.) How could a little kid not like this installation? Shuffling through the colorful plastic was a riot for my boy and a great photo op for me. Be sure to bring your camera. (We would have hit the other part of the installation—but I donated some of my son’s old toys  to the project a few weeks ago and didn’t want him to see his things and lose it. For those of you who have not already sent your child’s toys off to this project, I highly recommend it.)

Richard Serra’s Band and Sequence. Art that feels like a funhouse. Perfect for little ones. My boy was eager to see what was around every curve and (unfortunately) found that loud voices get big echoes inside the sculptures. When I dragged him out of Sequence, he pleaded, “No! More art!”—aside from “I love you,” perhaps the three most gratifying words my kid has ever said to me.

Chris Burden’s Urban Light. It’s a no-brainer. The gridded lights create a maze that my son and other little kids had fun zipping around in. Though frankly, I had as much fun in Urban Light, Band, Sequence, and HappyHappy as he did. Each were great immersive experiences that invited active participation rather than passive looking.

Lunch. Lastly, we headed up to the cafeteria where hotdogs, hamburgers, and pizza are served—there’s healthy stuff too—and dined outside on the plaza, capping our day off by throwing a couple of pennies in the nearby fountain. Great family time and a little culture all in about an hour.

 Allison Agsten


Happily Enjoying HappyHappy

July 29, 2009

Gilbert Ottley, security officer at LACMA, knows Choi Jeong-Hwa’s HappyHappy in the park quite well. His regular post is at the guard kiosk just thirty feet or so from this community art installation. And while Mr. Ottley’s primary responsibility is to monitor loading dock activity and pedestrian traffic entering the museum on 6th Street, lately he’s been taking a lot of photos. Museum visitors often ask him to take their picture to memorialize their contributions to the collaborative art piece. Today I offered to take his picture—next to his favorite addition to the sculpture, a giant car designed for toddlers to ride in.

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Gilbert Ottley and Choi Jeong-Hwa’s "HappyHappy"

Mr. Ottley’s favorite observations are seeing people interact with the art piece. Kids love to play around it and adults like pointing out the strange collection of stuff that’s accumulated. And everyone takes a lot of pictures!

If you haven’t yet added to the sculpture, it’s high time for you to go through the toy box or recycling bin and bring your colorful plastic stuff to LACMA. I can’t promise that Mr. Ottley will be available to take your photo, but we’ve got a supply of zip ties at the ready for your use to attach your contributions.

Karen Satzman, Manager, Art Classes and Family Programs


Unpacking Storage Piece

July 28, 2009

If you visited Your Bright Future early in the exhibition’s run, you may be surprised to know that Haegue Yang’s Storage Piece looks quite different now. When originally installed, the piece was comprised of stacked crates filled with previously unsold works by the artist (for the story on Storage Piece, check the Your Bright Future feature on the front page of lacma.org). Over the course of the exhibition, those crates are slowly unpacked to reveal the artworks contained inside.

In mid-July, half of the crates were unpacked and the artworks were installed in the gallery. The rest will be unpacked in a couple of weeks. Since the unpacking takes place when the museum is closed to the public, we thought we’d share these photos of the process with you. For the record, you will be able to see the final performance associated with Storage Piece, which will occur during a conversation between Haegue Yang and curator Lynn Zelevansky in the gallery on September 10.

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Storage Piece as it was originally installed

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The unpacking in process

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Laying and unpacking the flat art which will go on the wall

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Preparators study the artist’s directions for installation

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Hanging the art

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The project is almost finished…

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First phase of unpacking complete

Scott Tennent and Yosi Pozeilov, Senior Conservation Photographer


The “Glamorous” Life of a Curator

July 27, 2009

A lot of people think that art museum curators lead a totally glamorous life, as if we’re always sipping champagne with the queen. There is a kernel of truth to that (well, I’ve toasted with Prince Charles, if not with Queen Elizabeth), but there is also the decidedly unglamorous, nitty-gritty side to the curator’s life.

I recently couriered Takashi Murakami’s big triptych in LACMA’s collection, PO + KO Surrealism (Green) (1999), back from the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, where it had been on loan for an exhibition. What does couriering really entail? After carefully checking on the condition of the large (over 9 feet tall and almost 14 feet wide) triptych in the storeroom of the museum in Bilbao, I oversaw the packing of the three panels into two huge crates, and the next day watched as the two crates were loaded into a gigantic truck. After what seemed like forever—as requested, I had arrived at the Guggenheim Bilbao at 8 am that morning to oversee the loading—the air-ride, climate-controlled truck, filled completely with various Murakami crates ultimately headed for London and New York as well as Los Angeles, finally pulled out of the loading dock at 2 pm.

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Drivers Feday, Ricard, Mark, and Pedro with LACMA curator Carol Eliel, right before starting the Paris-Luxembourg leg of the courier trip. Carol drove in the truck with Feday and Mark (and the Murakami crates), with Ricard and Pedro in the second truck.

I rode in the cab of the truck with two interesting and charming truck drivers, Mark and Feday. It was frustrating to drive through northern Spain and southwestern France—known for great food and fine wines—only to eat dinner at a highway rest stop, but the landscape was beautiful and the summer day long. However, it was pitch-dark when we pulled into the secure art warehouse on the gritty, industrial outskirts of Paris at 2 am. (How frustrating to be at the end stop of one of the Paris metro lines and not be able to go into the city center!) After six hours’ sleep, a refreshing shower, and a quick breakfast at our Motel 6 equivalent, we hit the road again for the eight-hour drive to Luxembourg, the nearest airport to Bilbao with freighter service.

Because LACMA’s Murakami crates were so large, they wouldn’t fit in the smaller cargo belly of a passenger plane—they needed to go on a much more commodious freighter flight. After arriving at the Luxembourg cargo terminal and overseeing the removal of the crates from the truck, I watched as the CargoLux staff put together an oversized pallet and loaded onto it my two crates along with several others destined for Los Angeles. By the time the pallet was plastic-wrapped and moved to climate-controlled overnight storage, it was close to midnight and all I could find for dinner was a side order of soggy French fries at the cargo workers’ commissary!

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Workers in the CargoLux cargo terminal in Luxembourg wrapping the pallet with LACMA’s Murakami crates.

On day three of this long and arduous journey I finally saw my pallet safely fixed in place inside the cargo plane—along with cars, jet engines, and other oversized items—and I settled into the small but comfortable passenger area of the plane for the twelve-hour flight to Los Angeles. Even when we arrived in L.A. my courier trip wasn’t over. After clearing immigration myself (by which point the cargo had been unloaded from the aircraft), I had to wait for the crates’ paperwork to be cleared, for the pallet to be unwrapped, and for LACMA’s crates to be loaded into a waiting truck. From LAX we drove to the museum, unloaded the two giant crates, moved them into secure storage at LACMA…and finally, having been up for twenty-four hours straight after two days in the truck, I could go home and sleep in my own bed. So much for glamour!

Carol S. Eliel, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art


Ask a Curator: Tips on Becoming a Curator

July 24, 2009

Al asks: How does one begin a career as curator? Do you go to school for it, or can you work your way up the museum hierarchy?

Marielos asks: Beyond grad school and tons of work experience, what are some tips for a curator starting their career?

Internships, internships, internships. And did I mention internships? There is really no better way to develop a hands-on understanding of curatorial work then by observing and partaking in a curatorial department’s daily grind, either through volunteering as an intern or working as a curatorial administrator. It’s one thing to be able to research and write about art intellectually (skills developed at university), and another to deal with it as a physical object that needs to be moved around, insured, conserved and installed in its best “light” (through actual lighting, exhibition design, didactics, etc.). Since curatorial work is a very competitive field, such positions also offer a foot into a museum and the possibility of demonstrating your skills to a staff who may be hiring in the future. I got my first curatorial job while working as a part-time research assistant at MoMA. A curator needed help organizing an exhibition and there I was, right under his nose, ready and willing to jump in.

As Marielos mentions, the conventional approach to becoming a curator also involves an advanced degree in art history. At one time an MA was sufficient, but increasingly (again because of competition), a PhD is “preferred.” A PhD takes at least five years to obtain if you go straight through, and up to ten (or more) years if you stretch it out, as I did, by gaining work experience throughout. Either way, it’s a definite commitment but one that’s truly worthwhile for those who love art (both as idea and object) and bringing it to the public.

p.s. There are, of course, also unconventional approaches to becoming a curator that you see more often in the field of contemporary art. In cities like Los Angeles with vital art communities, there are lots of alternative spaces and art galleries that offer emerging curators opportunities to organize shows.

Leslie Jones, Associate Curator, Prints and Drawings


Raiding and Recycling the Collection

July 23, 2009

Yesterday you might have read Modern Art Notes’ post on artist Robert Fontenot’s Recycle LACMA project, in which the artist purchased deaccessioned objects from LACMA’s collection and refashioned them into new objects (also mentioned in a couple of other blogs). Some of our curators have also been thinking about the many issues surrounding Fontenot’s project—there’s a lot to unpack. We asked our curator of contemporary art, Rita Gonzalez, for her thoughts.

It’s been forty years since Andy Warhol transformed the collection of the Rhode Island School of Design in his curatorial effort Raid the Icebox I. Hanging an assortment of scuffed Windsor chairs on the walls salon style and stacking multiple shoe boxes culled from the forgotten parts of the museum’s collection, Warhol shined a light—literally—on the leftovers (a category that attracted him to objects and people alike). Conjured up from the same font of inspiration, Los Angeles-based artist Robert Fontenot’s online project Recycle LACMA continues this conversation about what remains hidden and what merits display in museums today—and just who is involved in that conversation.

Ironically, Fontenot first started thinking about the lifespan of the museum object when he interned at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art, where he worked with LACMA’s former decorative arts curator Thomas S. Michie. As a self-confessed packrat working within a collecting institution, Fontenot found himself thinking about which objects were being preserved and which were contenders for deaccession. The hoarder in his head wondered, “just because this object is not needed now does not mean it won’t be 100 years from now.” This interest in the discarded translated into his artistic practice as he started to work with outmoded craft techniques, such as the incredible assortment of embroidery samplers that can be viewed on his blog Dictionary of Earthly Delights.

Earlier this year, Fontenot acquired fifty objects from three different auctions of deaccessioned materials from LACMA’s Costumes and Textiles collections and has undertaken the self-imposed task of repurposing each into an altogether different entity.

Galanos Coat

James Galanos Long Coat

Car Seat Cover

Car Seat Cover

Rather than a condemnation of deaccessioning practices, Recycle LACMA is a joyful but biting call to all collecting museums to think more radically about re-circulating these objects back into a creative economy. While the texts that accompany the deaccessioned and detourned costumes and textiles on his blog comport with the language of museum recordkeeping (condition reports, justifications for deaccessions), this simulation of the institutional voice is only one facet of his project.

The other, more ludic aspect concerns the potential of curators and registrars to think in an expanded way about recycling cultural materials back into a chain of production. Fontenot acknowledges in short essays interspersed throughout the blog that LACMA (as do most museums) looks for cultural institutions more suited for the objects on the deaccession list. But rather than delving too deeply into the pedantic, Fontenot exerts more of his obsessive energy into breathing new life into his acquisitions (which ironically involves “killing” the old object and thus rendering them ineligible for that one hundred year retrospective!).  He turns a gold lamé paisley skirt into a promotional banner for our present exhibition Your Bright Future. A 1950s evening dress becomes a beach umbrella. And while the embroidered pair of Guatemalan pants reborn as teddy bears makes some giggle, the Claire McCardell dress morphed into a witch’s cap might make some cringe. Of course, those reactions indicate another type of devaluation of the nameless artisan versus the auteur.

Paisley Skirt

Paisley Skirt

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Banner for "Your Bright Future"

As I sat and discussed the project with our Costume and Textiles curator Kaye Spilker, she wondered aloud if it is the status of her department’s holdings—so undervalued from the standpoint of art history—that made them more available to Fontenot. Would Fontenot have turned a Van Gogh drawing into a witch hat? As I continue to sit and grapple with this provocative project, I wonder in the end if what Warhol and Fontenot allow us to think through is how the curator and artist are the collectors and hoarders who are oftentimes forced to create through purging and construct through deconstruction.

Rita Gonzalez


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